A writing from the 3rd century BC states: “When heaven is about to confer a great responsibility upon any man, it will exercise his mind with suffering, subject his sinews and bones to hard work, expose his body to hunger, put him to poverty, place obstacles in the paths of his deeds so as to stimulate his mind, tone his nature, and improve wherever he is incompetent.” I must say that this quote is most likely hard to digest or even offensive to most within the modern, comfortable, unprepared, and weakened western church mindset. Do these words speak truth? Or, are these words a rock of offense to those who prefer the tonic and false narrative of ease and comfort? These words are certainly an offense to the camp which embraces that wealth, health, and prosperity as a given right to anybody who simply believes. Does a believer have a right to health if they are gluttonous or eat unhealthy? Does a believer have a claim to prosperity if they’re naturally and spiritually lazy? Does a believer have a claim to healthy relationships if they’re a chronic gossip oozing with insecurity? Can a believer gain measures of prosperity by simply sowing a little seed cash to the televangelist? Can we throw every person, dogma, and every need into one basket and say: “This is what we should expect from God?” While God’s promises are true – maybe, our understanding, timing, and paths which lead to truth have been greatly misunderstood?
We’ve all heard the timeless saying, “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” Is this statement true? Before we answer this question, we must agree that many societal traditions, whether old or new have various takes that attempt to define fate, predestination, and divine foreknowledge. Likewise, and interestingly, there are cultural beliefs in many parts of the world that similarly state that “God writes the destinies of each man upon their foreheads.” Suppose that on the day that your child is born; you are given two gifts – A pair of glasses that allows you to read your child’s future and a pencil that allows you to edit it. Suppose further, that the gifts come from God with full permission to use them as you please. What would you really do?
Let’s apply this question to a potential real life scenario and read the future destiny of a person that you and I may know: At age 10 – his or her childhood best friend dies of open heart surgery due to a heart defect at birth. At 18 – graduates high school at top of class. At 20 – car accident while driving intoxicated leads to amputation of right leg from the knee down. At 24 – becomes a single parent. At 29 – gets married. At 32 – publishes a successful article. At 33 – experiences a nasty divorce…. I wonder how painful or unnerving it would be to see your child’s future adversity and subsequent suffering written out before you? I wonder which or how many parents couldn’t resist the desire to cross off the tragedies and correct the self-inflicted and non-self inflicted wounds?
Yet, we all must be very careful with that pencil! Our good intentions could actually make things far worse. If “what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger” is correct in its purest sense – then the complete erasure of adversity from your child’s future would most likely leave him or her weak and under-developed in many ways.
As the end of days unfold and if we are in fact to endure to the end – we must understand with prophetic insight the aspects of adversity and its potential value both mentally and spiritually. People, in my opinion need adversity, set-backs, and yes, even trauma to reach the highest levels of strength, fulfillment and personal development. I understand that the before mentioned saying – “what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger” cannot be taken literally in all life circumstances all of the time. People who face the real or present thoughts of their own deaths or who witness the violent deaths of others sometimes develop post traumatic stress disorder which is a debilitating condition that leaves its victims anxious and over-reactive. These people mentally change and crumble under the pressure of adversity. I must state emphatically that it is essential that we overcome and seek divine healing if we suffer from PTSD and anxiety related traits. People in the grip of these stress disorders reflect depression, anxiety attacks, negativity, and increased heart disease. It is the Lord’s desire to completely restore and renew our minds to reflect the mind of Christ. The body with its flesh and bones is certain to decay in a fallen world. However, assaults on the mind require spiritual intervention or healing as the mind possesses eternal significance. We will need and require this mental healing, assurance, faith, and power to be more than conquers.
With that said, I want to bring a balanced approach and understanding to the statement “what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger” as well as shed light upon the certain adversity that is coming in our lives. It is also imperative that the church (you and I) view and understand how adversity can be harmful, but more importantly, how it can also be very beneficial.
This is not about the value of adversity with ‘some limits attached’. It’s a much more intense and interesting revelation than that. It’s a story that reveals how human beings grow and flourish in the real world and within our spiritual reality. It also defines how you and your child (if you have children) can best profit from the adversity that is certain to arise in your future. I would like to refer to this form or type of adversity as ‘post traumatic growth.’ The story below will help illustrate my points:
Tony’s life fell apart in 1996. On that day, his wife and two children ages 6 and 8 disappeared. It took Tony 4 days just to find out that they did not die in some sort of accident. Brenda had taken off with the children and left with a man she had met while eating lunch at restaurant a few weeks earlier. The four of them had been driving around the country and had been spotted in several western states. The private detective that Tony hired quickly discovered that the man who ruined Tony’s life had earned his living as a con artist and petty criminal. How could this possibly have happened? Tony felt like Job striped of all he loved most in one day and like Job, he had no explanation for what had befallen him. Tony, an old friend, called me whether I had any prophetic insight as to why his wife had fallen under the influence of such a fraud. The insight that I offered was that the man sounded like a genuine psychopath. Most psychopaths documented over the last 50 years are not physically violent although most serial killers and rapists possess psychopathic tendencies. They are people who are usually men and possess no moral emotions, attachment systems, or concerns for others. Since they feel no shame, embarrassment, or guilt – they find it easy to manipulate people into giving them money, sex, and even trust. I told Tony that if this man was a psychopath as I sensed, he would be incapable of love and would soon tire of the Brenda and the kids. I assured Tony that he would most likely see his children sooner than later.
Two months later, Brenda suddenly returned. The police returned the children into the custody of Tony and his panic phase was over but so was his marriage. Tony had to begin the long and painful process of rebuilding his life. He was now a single parent living on an assistant professor salary. He would face years of legal expenses fighting Brenda for custody of the kids. He now had little hope of finishing the book that his academic career depended upon and worried non-stop about his children’s emotional and spiritual health…As well as his own. What was he going to do? I visited Tony 2 or 3 months later on a beautiful August evening in Michigan and as we sat on his porch, Tony explained to me how the crisis had affected him. He was still in pain but he learned that many people genuinely cared and were there to help him. Families from his church were bringing him meals and helping out with child care. Even his parents sold their house to move closer to him to help raise the children.
Tony explained to me that the experience radically changed his perspective about what truly mattered in life. As long as he had his children back; career success was no longer so important to him. He stated that he now treated people differently which was caused by a stark change in his changed values. He found himself responding to others with much deeper love, forgiveness, and sympathy. He just couldn’t get mad or upset at people for what seemed like “little things” anymore. It was then that Tony said something very powerful – “This is my moment to sing the aria, I don’t want to do it nor do I want this chance, but it’s here now and what am I going to do about it? Am I going to rise to the occasion?”
To have framed his circumstance in such a way showed that he was already rising. With the help of his family, friends, and most importantly – a deep connection with God, Tony rebuilt his life, finished his book, and a couple years later found a fantastic job. I know without doubt that Tony still feels wounded by what happened. However, he said that many of the positive changes had endured and that he now experiences more joy from each day with his kids, family, and friends than he did before the crisis.
Stress in and of itself can produce various affects and most documented research focuses on the resilience of people or the way people cope with adversity, fend off mental damage, and bounce back to normal functioning. But it’s only been recently that prophetic insight has grown in maturity to understand tragedy and proclaim how we can recognize, handle, and even benefit from its certain occurrences. These benefits must be viewed as “post traumatic growth” as I stated earlier, if the church is to move forward within the mandate of scripture as the days of revelation are revealed to the sons of God. This is in stark contrast or the opposite of post traumatic stress disorder. It is also in stark contrast with the ease and comfort message that grows a church crowd but fails to grow the church.
I have reviewed research studies which reveals that people who have suffered tragedy including cancer, heart disease, HIV, rape, assault, paralysis, infertility, bankruptcy, house fires, plane crashes, and earthquakes. These studies also reveal how people cope with the loss of their strongest attachments such as children, spouses, and parents. This large body of research shows that although trauma, crisis, and tragedy comes in hundreds of forms and hundreds of ways, people benefit from them in three obvious ways. The first benefit is that rising to a challenge reveals your hidden abilities. Seeing and experiencing these abilities changes your self-concept. None of us really knows what we are capable of rising to or enduring until endurance is stimulated. I have heard many say, “I would die if I lost X or, I could never survive what Y is going through.” Yet, these are statements pulled out of thin air with the stench of flesh. If you did lose X or found yourself in the same position as Y – your heart would not stop beating and you would continue to respond to the world as you found it and most of those responses would be automatic. People often say that they are “numb” or on “auto-pilot” after a loss or trauma. I truly understand that conscious behavior is severely altered, but somehow the physical body keeps moving. Over the next few weeks some degree of normalcy returns as one struggles to make sense of the loss or tragedy and of one’s altered circumstances. The statement of “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” is not the bottom line. The bottom line is that you are now by definition a ‘survivor.’ It is now you that others will marvel at and how you endured.
It is the self-doubt within the hearts of man and the unsaved within the tragic days ahead that our witness and strength will be required by the Lord. We must be both mentally and spiritually equipped as His witnesses upon earth. One of the most common lessons people draw from tragedy and trauma is that they are much stronger than they previously realized. This new appreciation of their strength then provides them the confidence to face future challenges. These ‘changes of mind’ are not just imagined silver linings to wrap around a dark cloud. People who have suffered through battle, financial ruin, concentration camps, or traumatic personal losses often seem to be inoculated against future stress. They recover more quickly in part because they know they can cope.
As a prophetic generation and voice, we must be inoculated to withstand the viruses of evil that are upon earth as our witness and leadership opportunities arise. The truth, which is contrary of much charismatic and even prophetic teaching today is that the person who has experienced adversity and even tragedy can stand more firmly in the face of problems than the person who has never experienced suffering. From this view, we must conclude that some suffering can be beneficial as valuable lessons for life. The second benefit concerns relationships.
Adversity is a filter. When a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness or when a couple experiences loss, friends and family members rise to the occasion and look for anything that they can do in expressing support or to be helpful. Sadly, these great acts of unconditional love do not usually occur in one man toward another unless stimulated. On the other hand, others will turn away from our times of tragedy. Maybe, it’s that they’re unsure what to say or unable to overcome their own fear and discomfort with the situation which is usually the underpinning of avoidance. If we possess a fear of death, we are certainly not in good standing with both man and especially God. Adversity does not just separate the fair-weather friends from the true… It strengthens relationships when they intersect upon the roads of crisis. It opens people’s hearts to one another. We often develop a deeper love for those whom we care for and we usually feel love and gratitude toward those who cared for us in a time of need.
One of the most common affects of losing a loved one is that the bereaved have a greater appreciation of and tolerance for the other people in his or her life. A woman who’s husband had died of an extended illness explained, “The loss enhanced my relationship with other people because I realized that time is so important and you can waste so much effort on small insignificant events or feelings”. Like Tony, this bereaved woman found herself relating to others in a more loving, lasting, and a less petty way. Tragedy and trauma seems to shut off the motivation to play petty tit for tat games with its emphasis on self-promotion and competition. This ‘change’ in the way we relate to others points to the third benefit: Trauma changes mindsets and philosophies toward the present and it promotes living each day to ourselves and toward other people to the fullest.
A great many people facing death (even soldiers needing to kill out of self-defense and a justifiable purpose) report changes in values and perspectives in regard to the value of life. A diagnosis of cancer is often described in retrospect as a wake up call; a reality check, or a turning point. Many of these people consider changing careers or reducing the time they spend at work. The reality that people often wake up to is that life is gift that they have been taking for granted and that people matter more than money, career, or anything else for that matter. Please understand that the purpose of this message is not to celebrate suffering, tragedy, prescribe trauma for anybody or minimize the need for you and I to reduce suffering wherever we can. I certainly do not desire to ignore the pain that ripples out from each diagnosis of cancer which naturally spreads fear along the lines of family and friends. I only desire to make the point that suffering is not always bad for all people and is necessary at times in all of our lives. There is usually some good mixed in with the bad or trying times in our lives and those who find it and learn from it have found something precious. They have found a key to social and moral maturity as well as spiritual development which is not to be feared but embraced with fortitude and strength.
Its time that we (the church) tighten up and stand in the midst of crisis rather than shake in fear, doubt, and weakness. The day is at hand for the sons and daughters of God to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord…Yes, even in the midst of tragedy because we understand that all things work out for good toward those who love Him! “And we rejoice in the hope by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope by faith of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance and perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:3-5)